Sarcomas: causes, symptoms and evolution
Sarcomas: unknown causes
We don’t yet known what causes sarcomas. The majority of cases are known as sporadic, meaning that no cause was found.
Some factors, however, encourage the occurrence of sarcomas:
- Very rare genetic diseases (including retinoblastoma, Werner syndrome, Von Recklinghausen disease, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome)
- Exposure to radiation (radiotherapy), toxins (vinyl chloride, thorium dioxide, dioxin and pesticides are suspected) or viruses (such as herpes and HIV)
- Lymphedema (accumulation of liquid in the tissues)
What do sarcomas look like?
Soft tissue sarcomas present as a “lump” or rather commonplace swelling. Before it grows it may not be felt, but if it develops significantly it may hinder movement. Most of the time the mass is painless (except if it is compressing an organ or touching a nerve) and the skin has no particular coloring. Sarcomas in the thorax may cause a cough and respiratory problems. When located in the abdomen, they can cause pain or an increase in abdominal volume.
Sarcomas in the bone may present the following symptoms:
- A persistent hematoma and/or a bump that is growing near a bone
- Unexplained bone pain (without trauma), increasing over time and resistant to the usual painkillers
- An unexplained fracture
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are often discovered by chance, following a routine exam. These tumors may sometimes be felt as a mass or discomfort in the abdomen, along with digestive disorders and bleeding.
The development of sarcomas without treatment
Sarcoma cases develop in very different ways, depending on their type and grade: they may develop quickly or very slowly, and cause metastases in only 30% of cases. Some sarcoma cases, known as “well differentiated,” such as liposarcoma, never lead to metastases, whereas others, such as Ewing sarcoma, present a high risk of metastasis.
Note that there are a great many more benign tumors than malignant ones presenting as a “lump,” but in all cases the patient should see a doctor.